Schedule is killing the game

2011-07-23 00:00

Sport24 rugby reporter J. J. HARMSE takes a look at the game load an international coach has to win while keeping his players fit

DURING my time as a rugby reporter, I have seen a number of coaches at various levels come and go. Some last a season, others not even that long.

In my time as a reporter I grew quite fond of former Crusaders coach Robbie Deans in particular.

As it happened, I travelled to Christchurch for the Super Rugby playoffs in 2006 and the Crusaders came to Pretoria in 2007, so I established a nice working relationship with Deans.

In his time as Wallaby coach, he remained a friendly face, not afraid to speak his mind and always had some value to add to a particular rugby issue when asked.

How strange it was, therefore, this time around during his press conference in Sydney on Monday.

Suddenly, instead of looking ahead at playing the Springboks, Deans was forced to reflect on what went wrong against Samoa last weekend. He was forced to defend his team selections, game plan and what the heck was going on with his Wallabies.

A year ago our own Peter de Villiers was called a “clown” on an Australian television show by former Wallaby hooker Brendon Cannon, who — and although he had to apologise — had another go at the press conference after the Boks lost to the Wallabies, asking De Villiers whether he was the right man for the job and whether he was going to resign.

This time around, all the heat is on Deans as a loss against Samoa is just not acceptable, especially when you’re the second-ranked team in the world.

So while Deans was talking away, the Boks could train on their own, with almost no attention on them.

Deans was lamenting the fact that he had to give his Reds players some time off, which is exactly the same as Graham Henry has done with his Crusaders players and De Villiers with 80% of his regular squad.

To coach the three Tri-Nations teams with the varying structures of co-operation is a massive challenge to De Villiers, Henry and Deans.

De Villiers has almost no say in access to players, Deans has a little and Henry probably the most due to the NZRU’s central contracting system.

The Super Rugby success of their leading franchises and the short turnaround of the Tri-Nations in a Rugby World Cup year is actually hurting the two Antipodean teams much more than it has De Villiers.

The Springboks have been working hard in camps in Cape Town and Johannesburg and looked really sharp in Sydney until forced indoors by the heavy rain that is blanketing the Australian city at the moment.

Deans admitted that he could only start preparing properly for the Springboks on Tuesday and was forced to bring the team announcement forward from Thursday.

Henry announced his side to face Fiji yesterday morning with an injury list as long as his tallest lock and also complained about the fact that he had no option but to give a lot of his Crusaders stalwarts a break.

Remember now that in 2012, the coaches will have their national teams for three inbound Tests squeezed in between Round 16 and 17 of Super Rugby and then again the week after the finals of Super Rugby, for the first leg of the Four Nations.

How on earth will these coaches be able to pick sides like that? Can you imagine the Super Rugby round prior to our first Test against England next year being a one of local derbies?

The Stormers and Bulls and the Cheetahs and Sharks smashing into each other, only to play in a Test match seven days later!

Or what if we have three teams Down Under in the week prior to the first Test. It’s quite possible that the Bulls, Stormers and Sharks could fly to a Bok camp from say Dunedin, Brisbane and Hamilton.

What chance will the poor Bok coach have in preparing his side to play England that weekend?

It is becoming very clear that we are killing the game and breaking our players if we continue to follow through with the current competitions.

Yes, you remain the best by playing the best on a regular basis, but what we are heading towards is a certain recipe for disaster. At best.

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